The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and this change is slowly becoming the new norm. What shipping will look like post COVID-19 is still unclear as the industry is still in the thick of a battle to unlock global supply chains and deliver both aid and trade where it is needed.
However, while it is difficult to precisely say what all the outcomes will be, some predictions can be made about what will be different, without pre-judging the length and intensity of the pandemic. Notwithstanding, corona virus is a threat to jobs in the maritime industry; ironically, it holds opportunities for Nigeria to appreciate the prompt need for automation of our sea ports to reduce the effect of COVID-19 and fast track ease of doing business at our seaports.
Operations across most sectors of Nigeria’s economy were suspended as part of efforts to curb the spread of corona virus; but Nigerian ports remain operational to aid the evacuation of essential items such as food, petroleum products, medical equipment and safety materials to combat the pandemic. This shows the importance of sea ports, as gateways to the nation’s economy.
Nigeria has a vast coastline and huge natural resources and the maritime industry contributes N 1.9 trillion annually to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The maritime sector is the engine room of economic growth if only concerted effort were made to leverage on its many deliverables.
Presently, the industry watchers are of the view that the N1.9 to N2 trillionannual contribution to the nation’s GDP can shoot up to N7 trillion, if the country modernizes the seaports. Thus, to increase efficiency, boost revenue and facilitate legitimate trade, Nigeria seaports need to be automated.
Post COVID -19 Opportunities
As the Nigerian economy continues to reel from the impact of the pandemic, businesses across the country are jostling to limit their financial and business exposures. Most organizations have rolled out their business continuity plans designed to ensure that their business operations are not severely impacted.
One of the ways to succeed in your businesses post COVID -19 is to ensure that your company’s policies are well crafted and identified to enable the management to have a true focus on what the company is about.
Another window to a successful business plan post COVID -19 is the need to create initiatives that will enable the company to meet its goal as set out in its policy or mission statement.
The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of remote technologies and trend towards increased use of automation in our sea Ports. Automation has become a “must have” in our sea ports. Terminal operators and port users need to have the necessary digital skills to keep their business afloat. The need for immediate education on digital technology, for the survival of all businesses has become what we now call the “new norm”.
Connectivity and communication have never been so valuable, nor has the necessity of knowledge based on IT proven its worth so quickly.
Lack of physical meetings caused by COVID-19, has created the need to survive through other means which is technology.
Some entrepreneurs have taken initiatives themselves by converting small scale businesses into online business through the creation of websites and maximally using social media to advertise their products and services.
COVID-19 has made it imperative for any right thinking business and entrepreneur to be versed in IT/Digital technology. The new norm as it is called is about e- commerce, as meetings, networking and conferences are now embarked upon virtually.
It has come to a situation whereby, even travelling the world to meet your clients is reduced to e-tours and as such, for you to have a good marketing strength, it behooves on any reasonable entrepreneur to develop its website and indeed be computer savvy.
Another way to mitigate the challenges that COVID-19 has brought before us is to train locally. That is, learn some skills like soap and sanitizer production and the making of face masks like it is presently carried out in one of Africa’s leading companies- “Le Look”. Our textile industry alone can produce jobs running into millions for a 200 million population and exporting to other countries. We should look into this and expand our textile industry to produce more materials for exportation.
Agriculture is another fertile ground if harnessed properly. Our ginger in Nigeria is the best and you know that ginger is one of the ingredients used by the “Madagascar COVID-19 herbal remedy”. We should also encourage similar research and development in our country, as done in Madagascar. Sadly, our logistics is poor and this calls for the need to appeal to our CBN to cushion the effect by giving our farmers soft loans with interest at single digits.
As a country, we have taken back stage position in export of commodities like cocoa, palm oil, and many other agricultural products. This must resume. The value chain from the farms through logistics to the ports for outward shipping will create business opportunities. It is pertinent for the Federal Government to exploit the opportunities inherent in the industry, and Nigeria, as a matter of urgency, must develop non-oil exports to keep jobs up.
Furthermore, there is a need to improve our train tracks and ensure that we employ the services of our trains more than road trucks, to reduce the heavy weight on our poor and congested roads.
We also need to make our dry ports viable. Such as the ICDs which are all presently dormant. Packaging and processing of locally made goods, will contribute to our value addition. These will create jobs and we won’t have to dwell on oil; which value sadly is down due to COVID-19.
There is also the need to deploy more barges to our sea ports as all these facilities / infrastructures will encourage the ease of doing business in our sea ports and promote the vocation on freight –forwarding, stevedoring and even being a terminal operator.
This is the time to look inwards. We should drive exports and patronage of locally produced goods.
Most operators are indebted to financial institutions due to the capital intensive nature of pour business and when a situation like what currently obtains takes pace, loan repayments are still due regardless. So we need government to cushion the effect on operators. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should step in to see how loan interest rates can be renegotiated and probably extend moratoriums on loan repayments.
In our everyday lives, things will slowly get back to normal. We will be able to travel again, whether for work or for pleasure. We will go back to working in offices but we will have to be brave and prepare to adapt to the “new world”.
NIMASA’s Deep Blue Project on our Maritime Security via the acquisition of special intervention vessels and special mission aircrafts and helicopters, will require master mariners and pilots.
NIMASA’s floating dock for ship repair is another opportunity for Marine Engineers to secure jobs.
This paper was presented by the President of African Women in Maritime (WIMAFRICA) Barr. Jean Chiazor Anishere at a recent virtual conference organized by Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria.